GLEN ROCK, N.J. – Eric Hutner lost his wife this past summer, and he's developed a plan to remember her and benefit their community, through the Robin L. Rubinstein Valedictorian Scholarship Fund.
"Everyone here knows how dedicated she's been, to improving the schools and programs," he told Daily Voice. "And for me, it's a nice way to honor her memory, in a way that I knew she would like."
Rubinstein was first elected to the Glen Rock Board of Education in 2011, winning a write-in contest for that seat. Hutner said she'd become a "professional volunteer" in the school district, even before their daughter, Andrea, started school.
That work culminated in position on the Board of Education. In 2014, Rubinstein ran unopposed for her second term.
In the fall of 2012, she had been diagnosed with ALS – amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly known as Lou Gehrig's disease. Although it's a progressive neurodegenerative disease, she thought that she'd be able to complete a second term.
But the disease swept in more quickly than she and her family had anticipated, first taking away her mobility and then her speech. She reluctantly resigned her trustee position in October 2015.
The couple's daughter had graduated from Glen Rock High School in 2008 and was valedictorian of her class. Hutner is now establishing a foundation that will provide a scholarship to GRHS' valedictorian, beginning this spring.
"It's my way to honor Robin, and allow her to honor our daughter," he said.
I've seen the effort that it takes, to reach that level of achievement. The goal is to acknowledge the effort, dedication, persistence and ultimately the accomplishment of being number one in your class.
Robin's birthday was on Jan. 22, and he used her Facebook page – which he's kept open, to stay in contact with her network of friends – to announce his decision to endow this scholarship.
He said he envisioned simply funding the scholarship himself, but "the response to this has been astounding," with people saying that they'd like to contribute and participate.
So Hutner is now in the process of setting up a 501(c)(3) nonprofit for the fund, so people can get tax deductions, as well, if they donate. One local family with experience in setting up a foundation has even reached out to help with that process.
As the title of the scholarship indicates, the criteria for the scholarship is pretty straightforward. Hutner just wasn't interested in creating a complicated process – and he knows firsthand how hard students have to work to be valedictorian.
He's already been in touch with the superintendent and others in the administration, and he plans for this spring's valedictorian to have this addition to their college funding.
"I intend to do this on an annual basis, for at least a number of years," he said. "And I look forward to that."
Hutner doesn't currently have plans to do fundraisers or pair with other organizations: "I will, from time to time, make people aware of it and invite them to participate."
But he also said he wouldn't object, if others want to participate, either to increase the amount of the scholarship or its longevity.
"If others wish to join, they are welcome to."
For more information about the scholarship fund, email Hutner at email@example.com or message him through Rubinstein's Facebook page.
He has been surprised before, in the community's reaction to things involving his wife.
He said she was first coaxed into running for the board, as a write-in candidate. "We ran an online, viral campaign that was ultimately very successful."
Last June's local "Walk to Defeat ALS," an annual fundraiser for the ALS Association, also wasn't something that the pair had initially planned on being involved with.
"I'd been overwhelmed, as her caregiver and with a full-time job," Hutner said. When a longtime friend formed a team in support of Rubinstein, "my first reaction was, 'Ugh, more work.' But people fell out of the woodwork, helping and supporting the team.
"We became the team with the second-highest total in the metropolitan area," he said, with a hint of pride.
While he's not sure of the scholarship's final details, he is pretty sure of his plan in general. "I think the scholarship would make her happy."